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The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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fronds and hay-like scent, nestling among rocks and heather,
in sheltered nooks by the sea-shore ; also H. Unilaterale (Filmy
fern), in Hoy. A. Marinum (Sea spleenwort) is found wherever
sea- cliffs or caves suit its taste. It is to be regretted that the
fern extermination mania — that is the insane desire to dig up
every rare fern as soon as found — is extending to the Orkneys.

The Orkneys, however, can boast of one or two plants
as yet found hardly anywhere else in the British Islands.
O. Vtdgafian, var. Ambiguani, was for many years known only
in the Orkneys, but has lately been discovered in Wales ; and
Z. Polycarpa (Horned pond-weed) was for some time confined
to the Loch of Kirbuster, but has recently been found in
Ireland. Carex Ftilva, var. Sierilis, (a Sedge) is now only found


in Orphir, though formerly reported from Yorkshire. The
only Scotch locality for Ruppia Spiralis, is the Loch of Stenness,
while a new variety of Ruppia Rostellata (var. na)ia) was found,
in 1880, in the Oyce, Firth, by Dr. Boswell.

The scarcity of trees in the Orkneys being well known, it
is worthy of remark that Birch, Hazel, Mountain Ash, and
Quaking Poplar, are found indigenous in several glens in
Hoy, while the Poplar, along with Honeysuckle, occurs on the
Hobbister cliffs, and several other localities. It is evident that
at one time the islands were more or less wooded, at any rate
in the more sheltered situations, Hazel-nuts, and remains of
trees, being frequently found in the peat.

At present about 385 species of flowering-plants and ferns
are known in the Orkneys (not including varieties), which are
either indigenous or thoroughly naturalised, and a i&y^ more
are reported but require confirmation. Several species common
in Scotland and extending to the Orkneys, are extremely scarce,
occurring, perhaps, in only one or two localities.

As a complete " Florula Orcadensis " would not be par-
ticularly interesting to the majority of readers, in the following
list only the rarer British plants will be mentioned ; and to
avoid error, only those plants vvill be given which have been
verified by Dr. J. T. Boswell, the editor of the third edition
of E?iglish Botany, who has thoroughly investigated the flora
of the islands : —

Thalictrum Alpinum .... Hills of Hoy ; Orphir; Evie ;


Draba Incana Hoy Hill.

Silene Acaulis Hoy Hill ; Fitly Hill; JVestray.

Spergularia Marginata . . . JVauk Mill Bay, Orphir,

Dryas Octopetala Hoy Hill.

Circoea Alpina Orphir ; Hoy ; Evie.

Saxifraga Oppositifolia . . . Hoy Hill.

Myriophyllum Spicatum . . Bridge of Bro gar.

Ligusticum Scoticum . . . • Sea cliffs.


Galium Sylvestre .
Saussurea Alpina .
Hieracium Anglicum
„ Iricum .

„ Strictum .

Lobelia Dortmanna .
Jasione INIontana . .
Vaccinium Uliginosum
Arctostaphylos Alpina

„ Uva Ursi

Loiseleuria Procumbens
Pyrola Rotundifolia . .
Stachys Ambigua . . .
Ajuga Pyramidalis . . .
Mertensia Maritima . .

Primula Officinalis
Primula Scotica

„ ,, var. Acaulis

Oxyria Reneformis
Salix Phylicifolia
„ Nigricans .
Salix ambigua
Habenaria Viridis
Juniperus Nana .
Sparganium Affine
Potamogelon Nitens

„ Pectinatus

„ Filiformis

Zannichellia Polycarpa .
Ruppia Spiralis ....

Hoy Hill.

Hoy Hill.

Hoy Hill ; Scapa.

Ditto ; ditto ; afid Pegal,

Hohbister ; Pegal Burn.

] Vails ; Rousay.

Eday ; North Ronaldsay.

Walls ; Hoy Hill.

Summits of hills, Hoy ; 1 Vails ;


Hoy Hill.


Cultivated fields.

Hoy ; and Orphir.

Sandy shores, Scapa ; South

Hoy ; and Evie only.

Stroimiess ; Orphir ; Sanday ;
Rousay; Westray ; Shapin-
say ; Walls, &^c.

Stones of Stenness.


Sides of streams and lochs.

Ditto, but scarce.

Grassy banks, 7vith S. Repens.

Mainland ; Rousay.


Hoy ; Mainland.

Loch of Stenness.

Ditto ; and Loch of Kir-

Bridge of B?'Ogar.

Loch of Kirbuster.

Loch of Stenness.


Ruppia Rostellata Orphir.

„ „ var. Nana . Oyce Firth.

Scilla Verna Grassy banks by streams, arid

by the sea-shore.

Blysmus Rufus Wauk Mill Bay, Orphir.

Carex Fulva, var. Sterilis • . Swanbister ; Naversdale.

Triticum Acutum Scapa ; Hoxa links ; &=€.

Elymus Arenarius Hoxa links ; Holm ; Scapa ;


Aspidium Lonchitis .... Hoy.

Ophioglossum Vulgatum, var. Orphir; Calf of Flotta ; Rysa

Ambiguam . . • .... Little ; Hunda ; &-'C.

Lycopodium Annotinum . . Hoy Hill.



" Then, from his seat, with lofty air.
Rose Harold, bard of brave St. Clair ;
St. Clair, who, feasting high at Home,
Had with that lord to battle come.
Harold was born where restless seas
Howl round the storm-swept Orcades ;
Where erst St. Clairs bore princely sway
O'er isle and islet, strait and bay ; —
Still nods their palace to its fall.
Thy pride and sorrow, fair Kirkwall ! —
Thence oft he mark'd fierce Pentland rave.
As if grim Odin rode her wave ;
And watch'd, the whilst, with visage pale.
And throbbing heart, the struggling sail ;
For all of wonderful and wild
Had rapture for the lonely child.

■ And much of wild and wonderful
In these rude isles might fancy cull ;
For thither came, in times afar.
Stern Lochlin's sons of roving war ;
The Norsemen, train'd to spoil and blood,
Skill'd to prepare the raven's food ;
Kings of the main their leaders brave,
Their barks the dragons of the wave.


And there, in many a stormy vale,
The Scald had told his wondrous tale ;
And many a Runic column high
Had witnessed grim idolatry."

Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto VI.

There are three routes by which the traveller from the
modern Babylon can reach the Orkneys, and Saga in hand
wander over the ground rich in the memories of Sigurd the
Stout, the Great Jarl Thorfinn, the Sainted Magnus, Rognvald
the Rhymer, Swein the Viking, and William the Old, first
Bishop of the Orkneys.

By the first he can take the train for Liverpool, then embark
on one of Messrs. Langlands' steamers, and, after calling
on his way at Oban, and Stornoway, over which latter place
hangs the glamour of Sheila the Artless, the child of nature,
reach Stromness, having spent two nights and the better part of
three days on the voyage.

By the second he can, during the summer months, leaving
London by the Scotch night-mail for Thurso, reach Kirkwall
shortly after midnight on the following day.

The sail from Scrabster, the harbour of Thurso, to Scapa,
in anything like fine weather, and in the weird twilight of a
June or July night, is a very beautiful one, but the railway
journey is nearly twenty-four hours in length.

The third, and most comfortable one of the three in anything
like decent weather, is by rail to Leith or 'Aberdeen, and thence
by the steamers which, from the ist of May to the ist of
October, convey the mails three times a week from Aberdeen
to Shetland. The ^Monday's boat, after leaving Aberdeen,
proceeds to Stromness, thence to Scalloway, and from that
place once a fortnight or weekly up the west side of Shetland.
This trip, for those who can only afford the time to run up to
Shetland and back, is much the best of the three, as it enables
them to see all, or nearly all, of the finest coast scenery of both
the Orkneys and Shetland.

The Wednesday's boat from Aberdeen proceeds direct to


Kirkwall, thence to Lerwick. The Friday's steamer, on her
way to Lerwick, calls at Wick as well as at Kirkwall.

Leaving Leith early in the morning, you are in the Orkneys,
either at Stromness or Kirkwall, the next morning, and in
Scalloway or Lerwick the following evening, or afternoon it may
be, under favourable conditions. Here it may be as well to
suggest, to the intending traveller to the Orkneys and Shetland,
the advisableness of taking good warm underclothing and a
good thick ulster or pea-jacket for steamer and boat work, as
northern sea breezes, if bracing, are occasionally very keen,
even in the height of summer, especially after sundown. This
suggestion may seem absurd, but the writer has seen many
tourists shivering in thin serge suits and overcoats, that might
be all very well on a dusty day driving to Epsom, but which
as a protection against cold were a farce.

Without impressing you with that weird, northern region sort
of feeling, that Lerwick somehow seems to leave upon the
minds of most visitors to it for the first time — the more so if
they should arrive there when a midsummer night, which
is no night, only a subdued day, intensifies the charm in a
way that cannot be described, only be felt — the view of Kirk-
wall as you round Thieves' Holm, and steer down the bay
for the grand old cathedral on a bright summer or autumn morn-
ing, when sunlight and shadow are alternately rippling over
the purple coloured slopes of Wideford Hill, is one that only
the most hypercritical of travellers would attempt to decry.

But, before landing, it may be as well to glance at the civic
history of the royal burgh or city as, strictly speaking, Kirkwall
is entitled to be called. By its first charter,^ granted by James
in. on the 31st of March, i486, Kirkwall was created a royal
burgh with a right of holding courts, and full power of pit and
gallows, of infangthief and outfangthief, with two weekly
markets on Tuesday and Friday, and with three annual fairs
each of three days in length, the first commencing on Palm
Sunday, the second, called the Lambmas Fair, on the ist day
^ Maidweitt Collections.



of August, and tlie third, called St. Martin's Fair, on the
nth of November.

Not only were all market, customs, shore, and anchorage
dues granted to the Corporation, but strange to say,

"As also, all and haill the kirk called St. Magnus Kirk,
and other kirks, &c."

" And all and sundry prebendaries, teinds, and other rights
yrto belonging, and particularly all and haill the prebendary of
St. John, and all and sundry lands, houses, farms, teind and
teind sheaves thereof, with full power to the said Provost,
Baillies, and Council of the said burgh and their successors, to
intromit, uplift, and receive the same duties of the said lands,
and to sell and raise the same in all tyme coming, and that for
to be always employed and bestowed upon repairing and
upholding the said kirk called St. Magnus Kirk : and farder to
call an able and qualified man to be schoolmaster of our said
school in our said burgh," &:c.

Amongst the long list of lands granted to the Corporation
appears Thieves' Holm, " which was of old the place where all
the malefactors and thieves were execute." The charter of
James III. was confirmed by another granted by his grandson
James V., which bears date the 8th of February, 1536. Both
charters, however, if they ever were acted upon, appear to
have become nullities some time during the sway of Earls
Robert and Patrick, as we find Bishop Law ^ on the 30th July,
1612, choosing four of the inhabitants to act as bailies.
During the Commonwealth the inhabitants seem to have got
some sort of charter from Cromwell ; and on the Restoration,
by a novodamus'^ dated the 15th of May, 1661, their old
charters were confirmed, the rights of the bishopric, which
had been included in the first charter being, however, expressly
excepted. Nevertheless, owing to the disputes between the
inhabitants and the Morton family, an act was passed on the
nth of June, 1662, by which the inhabitants were forbidden

^ Ads and Statutes of the Lawting, T^ 21.
- Peterkiu's Rentals, Appendix pi\ 42, 43.


to exercise any of the powers belonging to a royal burgh, till
the process between them and Lord Morton was decided.
After the grants to the Morton family had been quashed in the
year 1669, a new ratification ^ of the charters was made by an
act of Parliament, passed the 22nd of August, 1670, from
which, however, as from the tiovodai/iiis, all rights belonging to
the bishopric were expressly exempted. At the present day
the only remnant of the Corporation property granted by the
charter of James III. is Wideford Hill, and of the three annual
fairs only the Lammas one survives.

The town of Kirkwall may be described as consisting of'
one long street, at the foot of a hill, running from N.N.E.
•to S.S.W., out of which several short streets and lanes
branch off. To the southward of the harbour is an oyse^
as lagoons are termed in the Orkneys, separated from the
sea by an ayre, or shingle beach, which has been formed in
bygone ages by the erosive action of the sea, under the
influence of the gales, which from the N. to N.E. cause a
nasty sea in Kirkwall Bay. This oyse, generally called " the
Peerie Sea," into which the tide pours like a mill race, was in
ancient days the harbour of Kirkwall. On landing from the
steamer, you pass up Bridge Street, which communicates v\'ith
the northern end of the long street before mentioned. On
your left-hand side, as you walk up Bridge Street, you come
to the Kirkwall Hotel, formerly the townhouse of the Traills
of Woodwick, having an open court in front. A little higher
up, on the same side of the street, you pass Poorhouse
Close, or Lane, at the end of which is to be found the
church of St. Ola, erected by Bishop Reid somewhere be-
tween 1540 and 1558. The original church, from which
Kirkwall took its name, in all probability occupied the same
site, and was erected, Anderson conjectures,- by Rognvald,
Brusi's son, to the memory of his foster father. King Olaf the
Holy, who perished in 1030 at the battle of Stikelstad. King

^ Peterkin's Rentals, Appendix, pp. 44 and 45.
- Ork. Sag. Intioiuction, p. Ixxxix.

Q 2


Olaf, who by the way must not be confounded with his
predecessor and namesake, Olaf Tryggvi's son, who imposed
Christianity on Sigurd the Stout in the bay of Osmundwall in
the year 995, is thus described by Baring Gould : ^^" If he was
diligent in observance of the fasts of the Church, he was
unscrupulous in passing the bounds of temperance on all other
days. He rigidly observed the sanctity of the Sunday, but his
moral life was far from pure. His successor, Magnus, was not
his son by his Queen Astrid. If he was ferociously cruel, he
was severely just. He inherited all his pagan ancestors' vices,
but they were united to a chivalrous, zealous enthusiasm for
the Christian faith. A saint he can only be termed by stretching
that aj^pellation to its extremest limits." In 10 14 he sailed
into the Thames and assisted Ethelred the Unready for a
couple of years against the Danes. He threw down London
Bridge by a very clever expedient and thus enabled Ethelred
to ascend the throne. This exploit was thus sung by one of
the scalds : —

" London Bridge is broken down, —
Gold is won, and bright renown,

Shields resounding,

War-horns sounding,
Hildur shouting in the din !

Arrows singing,

Mail-coats ringing —
Odin makes our Olaf win ! "

The original church was burnt down, according to Jo Ben, in
a raid made by a marauding party of Englishmen, probably the
one under the leadership of one John Elder Miles. The
raiders were afterwards defeated, on the 13th August, 1502, by
the Orcadians under one Edward Sinclair, and in attempting
to escape to their vessels many were drowned, amongst them
Elder. After that, Jo Ben says, the site was used as the burial-
place for malefactors. That Bishop Reid rebuilt the church we
have not only the authority of Wallace,^ but also the fact that in

^ Barino:-Gould's Lives of the Saints, vol. vii. p. 636.
- Wallace's Orkney, p. 97.


1855 ^ a stone was found, close to the church, having sculptured
on it a shield under a mitre, and below the mitre " Robertus
..." The church consisted of a parallelogram 35 ft. by
18 ft. inside. "The original entrance is on the S., 17 ft.
from the exterior W. angle. It is 3 ft. 5 ins. wide, with a
semicircular head, and continuous mouldings of a hollow
ornamented with four leaved flowers and a filleted roll, like
many of the mouldings in the Cathedral, except as to
the flowers." None of the original windows remain. " Pro-
bably there was a step at 10 ft. or 11 ft. from the E.
end, and perhaps a screen. A few feet E. of the entrance
inside was a stoup or piscina." When the church was
planned in 1855 ^ couple of ambries still remained, thus
described by Dryden : " In the N. wall near the E. angle
remains an ambry i ft. 4I ins. wide, 2 ft. i in. high, and

1 ft. 3i ins. recessed. The head is an ogee arch under a
hood moulding, and it is flanked by buttresses with finials. The
bottom of this ambry is 5 ft. i in. above what appears to have
been the original level of the floor. The moulding of this
resembles that of the entrance except in having no flowers.

" In the E. wall near the S. angle is a smaller ambry,
also ogee headed, and less ornate, the bottom of which is

2 ft. 6 ins. above the floor. The use of the ogee is very rare
in Scotland. The only curves of that kind in St. INIagnus are
in fragments of Bishop TuUoch's tomb."

One, if not both of these ambries, has within the last few
years been removed to the Scottish Episcopal Church, also
dedicated to St. Ola.

The building has been so knocked about that it is hard to
believe that it was ever used as a place of worship. After the
Reformation one John Sadlare- was appointed Reader in 1561,
but that appears to be the last notice of the building as a place
of worship.^ In the last century it is said to have been the

^ Dryden's Ruined Churches. - Fasti, vol. v. p. 380.

* See Appendix M. (pp. 616-619) as to Characteristics, ^c, of the early
churches in the Orkneys and Shetland.


poorhoiise, then it became a carpenter's workshop, and now
it is occupied as a dweUing-house.

The one long street before referred to is divided into three
portions, eacli known l)y a different name. The northern part is
Albert Street ; the central, opposite the cathedral, Broad Street ;
and the southern Victoria Street. Many of the houses were
erected in the last century by the lairds, when they found
kelp-making a profitable business, as mansions in which to
spend the winter months. The general plan of these houses
is three sides of a square with a connecting wall between the
gable ends, which made an inclosed court of the open space.
The gable ends are almost always surmounted by high-pitched,
crow-stepped roofs. Several of the houses, however, date
much further back than the eighteenth century.

At the north-western corner of Broad Street stands the
('astle Hotel, built on part of the site of the old castle, erected
by Henry St. Clair in the latter part of the fourteenth century,
and the last reHcs of which were swept away, when the new
approach to the harbour was made in 1865.

A little further on you come to the best specimen of the
typical laird's town house, now known as Tankerness House,
and belonging to the Baikies of that ilk, though erected pro-
bably in 1574 by Archdeacon Fulsie, whose arms and those
of his wife are over the gateway.

Close here, opposite that four-storied monstrosity of a shop,
utterly out of keeping with the surrounding buildings, which
has been recently erected. Captain James Moodie of Melsetter
was killed on the 26th of October, 1725.

Moodie,^ who was a distinguished naval ofificer, had become
obnoxious to Sir James Stewart of Burray and his brother,
Alexander Stewart. According to one account 2 the Stewarts,
when shooting on the Melsetter estates, had been deprived of
their firearms by the servants of the Moodie family, and, though
apologies had been tendered, had never forgiven the insult.

^ See Nisbet's Hcraldrv, vol ii., Appendix, p. 24.
- Vedder's Toems and Sketches, p. 311.


According to another version/ Alexander Stewart, having been
too marked in his attentions to Mrs. Moodie, had been forbidden
the house by lier husband, and ha\ ing been caught at Melsetter
afterwards by Moodie was by his directions flogged on the
bare breech with a piece of tang or sea-weed. For this de-
grading treatment Alexander Stewart is said to have in vain
demanded satisfaction from Moodie, who, however, refused
to go out, perhaps thinking his character for courage stood
sufficiently high for him to do so.

At last, stung to madness by the schoolboy's discipline he
had been forced to submit to, Alexander Stewart determined
to have his revenge. How he took it is described in a draft
letter from the sheriff depute to the magistrates of Kirk-
wall, discovered, some few years ago, amongst the county

The sheriff, Robert Honeyman,^ the sheriff-clerk, or, as he
was then termed, the steward-clerk, and Captain Moodie were
on their way to hold a Justice of Peace Court, when Sir James
Stewart of Burray and his brother, Alexander, accompanied by
their servants came "out of the said Baillie fifea his gate."
Alexander then proceeded to thrash Moodie with a stick. A
general melee seems to have ensued, in the course of which
Oliver Irving, Alexander's servant, fired two jDistol-shots. One
of them mortally wounded Moodie, " the oy' lighted on my
third son, Peter, cutt the Rim of his Belly," and finally lodged
in the arm of Moodie's servant, x^s Captain Moodie ^ is said,
when shot, to have been between seventy and eighty years
of age, can the whole business have been the usual result
of uniting May to December? The Stewarts escaped to the
Continent, where Alexander died in exile. Sir James returned
privately to England in 1729, and through the intercession
of James Stewart of Torrance, was on the 12th May, 1731,

^ Dennison's Orcadian Sketch Book, p. 20.
2 Notes and Queries, January 17, 1863, p. 52.
' By the way, he spelt his name Honeyvtane.
* first Stat. Ace. vol. xvii., p. 324.


pardoned for his sliare in the affray. ' Sir James, who in "'45 "
was aiding the Jacobite cause in secret, was after CuUoden
captured by a son of Captain Moodie, and conveyed to
London, where he died shortly after in Southwark gaol. In
order to induce Stewart of Torrance to obtain his pardon in
1729, Sir James gave his bond for ;^2oo, which in 1750
became the subject of litigation, to which the then Earl of
Galloway was a party. Mrs. Moodie, or, as she was generally
called, Lady Melsetter, appears to have been a woman of
strong passions, and, if Dennison's story of TJie - Heald-
Horn Rumpis is correct, played Mrs. Potiphar to the
minister of Evie's 'yoseph.

Up to about the year 1742^ all that open space opposite
the west end of the cathedral and of the north and south
churchyards, and at the south-western corner of which
stands the town-hall, was portion of the churchyard, which, up
to that date, had completely encircled the cathedral. James
1 6th Earl of Morton had just then obtained the first of the series
of tacks of the bishopric estates, which, though nominally in
the name of Andrew Ross, his chamberlain, were really
granted to himself, and had not as yet received that nice
little sum of ;^7,i47 sterling, which was to be paid to him on
the aboUtion of heritable jurisdiction. When therefore the
corporation proposed erecting a town-hall, my lord, in con-
sideration of himself and his successors being allowed to use
the Great Hall for the purpose of holding courts, not only
made a donation of ;^2oo towards the expenses of building,
and permitted the corporation to avail themselves of the ruins
of the King's Castle, as a quarry from which to get their build-
ing materials, but even allowed his precious chamberlain to
unroof the Earl's Palace to provide the slates needed. The

^ Tlie Stewarts of Burray were through the female line descended from
Robert Duke of Albany, second son of Robert the Second, and through
the direct male line from the Stewarts of Garlics, Lord Galloway's

- Dennisou's Orcadian Sketch Book, p. 72. ^ Maidmcni Colkctions..

2 ~

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Online LibraryJohn R TudorThe Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state → online text (page 20 of 59)